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“From Warmongers To Conspiracy Theorists”: CPAC 2015 Wants You To Know: You Are In Terrible Danger

Welcome to the Conservative Political Action Conference, a three-day-long performance from an improv troupe whose hat has only one statement in it: you’re in terrible danger. But that doesn’t mean you’re in terrible danger right now. Right now, there are seminars. About the danger. I have been to them, as part of my quest to be America’s Most Impervious Man. I don’t even care to what.

After a lunch consisting of a bowl of nails and a mean old dog, I attend the “America at Risk” seminar featuring speakers “Callista Gingrich” and “Newt Gingrich.” Technically, this statement is true, because they speak, and their words come out of speakers. Unfortunately, neither are here. Instead, after spending approximately one jillion dollars to attend CPAC, everyone in the Gaylord Hotel’s Chesapeake Rooms 4-6 gets to watch a $9.99 DVD. From 2010.

“America at Risk” is a well-shot piece of propaganda, with appropriately sinister documentary music and Ken Burns-esque pans across pictures of bad people. At one point, we are informed that, in 2009, “There were over a dozen terrorist cases in the United States.” The vague wording really works for me. I immediately wonder which of the dozen involved that white Nazi from Maine trying to build a dirty bomb or the white Nazi patriot shooting people at the Holocaust museum. Then I realize that these terrorist “cases” probably did not include white people, militias, separatists or sovereign citizens, since the number would probably be off by an order of magnitude.

Still, I enjoy seeing Marc Theissen claim that waterboarding works, that the Muslim Brotherhood controls one third of all mosques in America, and listening to a man explaining that we are currently experiencing Islam’s “third great jihad.”

Of course, what I enjoy is irrelevant. What the audience revel in is hooting at the screen whenever Barack Obama says anything divergent from what they agree with. “Islam has a proud history of tolerance”, Obama says in 2009. “Yeah where?” answers the audience, who call him an “idiot” and “liar,” before subsiding with a lot of sheeshes and head-shaking. “We see it in Andalusia, during the Inquisition,” Obama goes on to say. “Yeah, when they killed everyone” adds someone who does not seem to be aware that neither history books, the Muslims of Cordoba or Barack Obama can hear him.

I eventually leave the room and start heading to the other side of the Gaylord, where former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and Montana Representative Ryan Zinke answer the question: “When Should America Go to War?” And, folks, lemme tell you, it is all the dang time.

Watching these guys is amazing. Bolton, inventor of FreeRepublic.com’s mandatory mustache, opened early with, “We should have stopped Hitler at the Rhineland in 1936.” Cotton says, “If any state in the west had stood up to Adolf Hitler,” then sort of trails off into nothingness, perhaps remembering 1939-1945. When talking about how extreme force acts as a deterrent, Cotton says, “America is like Rome,” without mentioning Rome’s unnecessary wars of profit that served as a distraction from domestic political unrest. Churchill’s name comes up twice.

Bolton’s core thesis is that, “American strength is not provocative. American weakness is provocative”. Hence the allusion to Rome and the old Roman expression, Si vis pacem, para bellum. He then says that, “This is not a debate between interventionism versus non-interventionism, or between unilateralism or multi-lateralism,” which seems fairly obvious as soon as he starts talking about unilaterally going to war to stop anything he can think of. Cotton adds that the world has to know that we are willing to go to war to defend our national security interests, especially against trans-national terrorist groups. In a span of only few words, he has defined US interests as “everything everywhere.”

When asked if he would have supported the Iraq War, Cotton says he would have agreed with “Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who made the right decision to support president George W. Bush.” This audience hoots, too. That is, until Zinke says that he would not have supported the 2003 invasion. The comment stings, since Zinke was a Navy SEAL and also opened his comments moments earlier by noting that he’d been to more funerals than there were people in the packed room. I guess you can’t win ‘em all.

Somewhere after the actual veteran has Debbie-Dowernered things, the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano tells the assembled crowd that “we need to get back into the missile defense business in a big way.” What a funny way of phrasing that.

Still Bolton is on his game. You don’t get to be the Ur-Stache by being a slouch. “The war was correct,” he says, saying that Saddam would have had uranium-enriching centrifuges up and running immediately. “This saved the world from a nuclear disaster,” he says, which is a good job, considering all the other disasters just around the corner.

He then goes on to explain that we should have spent the last ten years better integrating the Baltic states into NATO, to discourage further Russian expansion.

“We’re past that,” he says, sadly. “That’s why we’re in such danger.”

 

By: Jeb Lund, The Guardian, February 28, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, CPAC, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“CPAC’s Bleeding-Heart Conservative”: A Misleading Appearance Of A Movement Crackling With Spirited Intellectual Frisson

Conservatives who hope to distance themselves from the whackadoodlier elements of CPAC often refer to the conference as a sideshow.

But this year, the sideshow has a sideshow: not a more extreme iteration, but an ideological double negative.

Down the hall from the main stage, there’s a three-day 9-to-5 “activist bootcamp” going on. Coordinator Matt Robbins considers it the first “comprehensive, timely, practical” attempt to turn CPAC’s unkempt exuberance into strategic, ground-game-winning competence.

If CPAC seems crazy to outsiders, it has something to do with the conference’s fundamentally incompatible aims: You can’t both serve as a training ground for future leaders and have speakers on the main stage regularly rattle off the reasons why civilization is doomed.

The conference’s young attendees, largely libertarian-leaning and not worldly enough to think that compromise is necessary, are presented with a slate of panels that give the misleading appearance of a movement crackling with spirited intellectual frisson.

At the same time, would-be presidential candidates deliver the same calculated one-liners designed to elicit hoots of agreement but are largely devoid of substance. No wonder it’s failed to produce an actual youth movement.

In the cocoon of CPAC, the next generation of leaders hears no good argument to change anything about the last generation’s approach.

They are New Coke (if you’ll pardon the pun) distributors at a New Coke conference where the liveliest debate has to do with why more people don’t like New Coke, and the loudest cheers are for the insults heaped upon those who refuse to drink it.

Robbins is here to tell them that some people do not like New Coke.

He is president of American Majority, a nonprofit [501c4] founded in 2010 to focus exclusively on state-level races and below. They say they have 2,700 trainees go on to run for office and 300 in office today—almost all of them at the county or even school board level.

CPAC has featured career fairs and activist workshops in the past, but, says Robbins, “those were mainly about how to get jobs in the movement. I don’t care about that. I want to get people elected.”

The solutions are, admittedly, mostly cosmetic and familiar to anyone that’s been around organizing of any kind—database building, coalition management, social media-tending.

But Robbins also wants to deliver a sharp message to a soft audience completely unprepared for criticism.

“This conference hasn’t been about actually winning for years.”

He gives only one workshop personally, “7 Grassroots Cheats Never Heard Of,” and it is less Alinsky than Oprah. He stresses making voters feel good about their choices. It is aggressively non-party-specific. Do listen to people you don’t agree with! Don’t manage your own social media!

His advice for a candidate posed the “gotcha” question as to whether Obama loves America is to take the political rhetoric out of the issue.

“Every president loves his country,” he says. “Every executive loves their country,” should be the response. “You may disagree, but that has to be the message.”

Toward the end, one audience member seems put off by the lack of red meat and asks, pointedly, why do conservative candidates need to do all this image-management stuff.

“If we can get the message out past the mainstream media,” he says, “the ideas can sell themselves.”

Robbins looks tired and amused.

“Can I be honest with you?” he says, not waiting for an answer: “No one cares. No one cares about our economic policy. No one cares about small-government federalism. No one cares about white papers.”

He returns to teaching mode and asks the audience, “You’re a candidate and you knock on someone’s door, what’s the first thing they want to know?”

“Who are you?” shouts someone. Robbins shakes his head.

After a few more guesses, Robbins interrupts.

“No, not ‘Who are you and what can you do for me,’ but, ‘Are you authentic, and do you care about me?’”

Voters want to know that the candidate is looking out for them, he explains. They will let the details slide.

This is clearly a sore spot. For another 10 minutes, Robbins harps on the GOP’s empathy gap almost exclusively.

It’s his theory for what’s behind the GOP’s slow-motion demographic implosion: Not enough candidates that seem genuinely interested in the problems of voters, whereas Obama definitely projects concern and Bill Clinton “was like a puppy dog in his enthusiasm for people.”

This seems, at first read, like an elegant way to get around the real problem: not the lack of empathic Republican politicians, but the lack of empathy that’s built into Republican policies.

This thought occurs to me after Robbins’ workshop, and I admit I am delighted, because it means I will get to ask someone my very own “gotcha” question.

When I follow up with him later, I deliver as rehearsed: “Do you think the fact that you have trouble recruiting empathetic candidates might have to do with how conservative policies themselves don’t appeal to people that have a lot of empathy?” Pencil poised, I await stammering. I am not rewarded. Or, rather, I am, but not by telltale hemming and hawing, but a simple, “You have point.”

“If you’re a small government-minded conservative, and you enact those policies, someone is going to lose. Something is going to get cut,” he admits, and people attracted to that philosophy have to be OK with that.

He suggests that perhaps such surety is the luxury of those who have never met those on the receiving end. Robbins worked in the Virginia statehouse and recalls being floored by the constant roll call of emergency requests: “There were tens of thousands of Virginians without running water… people going hungry…with mental health problems out on the street…These are people with real needs and there’s no homeschool association to take care of them, no church that can take care of them, no neighborhood group—it’s a situation where government does seem like the answer.”

“I am not sure most conservatives believe that world exists,” he says. “Or, they do, but since they think those problems exist because of Democrats’ policies, those problems SHOULDN’T exist, and then their brains lock up and start to smoke when you ask for a solution.”

So, how do you fix that? I ask.

“If I had my way, every candidate would go on a ride-along with police on the coldest night of the year, when they pick people up because they literally won’t survive otherwise.”

And, he said, there needs to be more conservative candidates and fewer movement activists, period—more people faced with the task of looking in the eyes of those on the other end of an philosophically unpalatable policy “and trying to thread that needle.”

“You know it only costs, on average, $2,000 to $4,000 to run for school board? How many people here do you think could afford that? Stop watching Fox News and go run.”

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, February 27, 2015

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, CPAC, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Name An Accomplishment”: A Question Republicans Shouldn’t Ask

With her boffo appearance at CPAC, it became obvious why Carly Fiorina masquerades as a presidential candidate: She loves the attention! According to National Review, her CPAC remarks scored a hit, if only because she trashed Hillary Clinton’s record as Secretary of State. Fiorina certainly proved her cred as a Fox News Republican. She eagerly parroted familiar talking points about Clinton – “Name an accomplishment!” – and accused Clinton of saying, “What difference does it make?” in response to the attack on the Benghazi consulate. Such craven willingness to lie for a cheap cheer at CPAC is all they – or we – need to know about Fiorina.

“Name an Accomplishment” is a game that everyone can play, however, and I daresay that Hillary Clinton and her avid defense team have plenty of answers. As for Fiorina, she came close to wrecking Hewlett-Packard, a major U.S. technology firm whose owners and shareholders hope never to see her face again. Many of her former colleagues there consider her utterly without qualifications for any role in government, no matter how small. (They make her sound like a pretty awful person, too.) Beyond her dubious résumé, Fiorina’s most memorable achievement was the moronic “Demon Sheep ad,” nominated by NPR’s Ken Rudin as “the worst political ad ever” – aired with her approval, of course.

Few former secretaries of state can actually point to a single, world-historical achievement distinguishing their tenure. Clinton went far, and not just literally, toward restoring American prestige and alliances after the nadir of the Bush administration.

As for Bush’s secretaries of state, both share responsibility for bringing this country to a very low point: Colin Powell with his infamous UN speech on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” a decision that he has since disowned; and Condoleezza Rice, with her “mushroom cloud” fakery and a long series of lies on the same topic. Hundreds of thousands dead, still more grievously wounded and left homeless, trillions of dollars squandered, and a violent Islamist movement rising from the ruins: Now there’s a whole series of accomplishments! Neither Powell nor Rice is likely to be remembered for much else.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, February 27, 2015

February 28, 2015 Posted by | CPAC, Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From Backyard Barbeque To Food Fight”: CPAC, The Right-Wing Woodstock Or A Bad Family Reunion?

Like at a family reunion, the infighting at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) started long before anybody arrived.

First, the group American Atheists announced that it would be sponsoring a booth at the conference, with the goal of bringing conservative nonbelievers “out of the closet.” The religious right was not pleased.

“CPAC’s mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense,” said the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. But he made clear that atheists would certainly not fit under his umbrella: “Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God?” he asked. Good question.

So, the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, gave the atheist group the boot. In response, the atheists showed up anyway to debate attendees in the hallway.

Then there was the perennial problem of the gays. In 2011, religious right groups including the FRC boycotted CPAC after the ACU allowed the conservative LGBT group GOProud to cosponsor the event. Once again, the establishment sided with the religious right and for the next two years banned GOProud from participating. This year, ACU offered a “compromise” in which GOProud was allowed to attend the event but not to so much as sponsor a booth in the exhibition hall. The “compromise” was so insulting that one of GOProud’s founders quit the organization’s board in protest.

But what about the people who were too embarrassingly far-right for CPAC? Not to worry, there’s no such thing.

Although the atheist and LGBT groups were too far off-message for the ACU, it did allow the anti-immigrant group ProEnglish to sponsor a booth at CPAC. Just a quick Google would have told the conference organizers that ProEnglish is run by a zealous white nationalist, Bob Vandervoort. In fact, CPAC’s organizers might have recognized Vandervoort’s name from the uproar his inclusion in the event caused in 2012 and 2013.

Now, just because the ACU was ready to welcome anti-immigrant extremists doesn’t mean that that was enough for immigrant bashers. A group of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim activists who were worried that CPAC was going too soft on their issues organized an alternative conference across the street. One of their concerns was the perennial conspiracy theory that ACU member Grover Norquist is a secret Muslim Brotherhood agent. Another is that CPAC dared to hold a panel featuring immigration reform proponents.

They shouldn’t have worried. Three days of speeches on the CPAC main stage made clear that many prominent conservative activists have no intention of moderating their stance on immigration reform. Donald Trump told the audience that immigrants are “taking your jobs,” Rep. Michele Bachmann said she wouldn’t even consider immigration reform until they “build the danged fence,” and Ann Coulter, never one to disappoint, suggested that if immigration reform passes “we organize the death squads for the people who wrecked America.” Then, there was One America News anchor Graham Ledger, who used the CPAC podium to claim that because of immigration, schools no longer teach “the American culture.”

To be fair, CPAC did make some efforts at opening the Republican umbrella, hosting a panel on minority outreach off the main stage. But the gesture would have been slightly more meaningful if anybody had bothered to show up.

Any family has its squabbles. But this awkward backyard barbeque has turned into a full-fledged food fight.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For The American Way; The Huffington Post Blog, March 11, 2014

March 12, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, CPAC | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Right’s New Clothes”: So Far, It’s Hard To Find Evidence Of Any Fundamental Rethinking

Are conservatives interested in new ideas, or are they merely infatuated with the idea of new ideas? Are they really reappraising their approach, or are they trying to adjust their image just enough to win elections?

One way to look at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference is as a face-off between the “No Surrender” cries of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and the “Let’s Try to Win” rhetoric of such politicians as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). Seen in this light, Republicans truly are having the internal debate that Ryan called “messy,” “noisy” and “a little bit uncomfortable.”

But Ryan may have revealed more than he intended when he downplayed conservative divisions. “For the most part,” Ryan insisted, “these disagreements have not been over principles or even policies. They’ve been over tactics.”

In which case, this is not an argument over ideas at all, but a discussion of packaging.

Christie was quite direct on this point. “We don’t get to govern if we don’t win,” he said. “Let us come out of here resolved not only to stand for our principles. Let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.”

To which Cruz had a ready reply: that Republicans are better off saying what they actually think. With Cruz, at least, you get the unvarnished right-wing gospel, preached without equivocation.

Cruz’s purity bumped his standing in the annual CPAC presidential straw poll up to 11 percent from 4 percent last year, and he took second place. But the hearts of the younger conservatives, the most visible part of the CPAC crowd, were with the unapologetic libertarianism of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Paul won the poll with 31 percent. Christie came in fourth at 8 percent. Ryan received just 3 percent.

No doubt there’s intellectual ferment among the right’s leading thinkers and some of its politicians, often reflected in the pages of the conservative journal National Affairs. Conservatives seem keen these days to acknowledge the need for some kind of social safety net. And while many on the right still deny or dismiss the problem of growing economic inequality, many are at least grappling with the crisis in upward mobility.

But so far, it’s hard to find evidence of any fundamental rethinking. Conservatives want to say that they’re devoted to more than the well-being of the wealthy, but their tax and regulatory policies remain focused on alleviating the burdens on the “job creators,” i.e., the rich. They say they want to do better by the poor, but the thrust of their budgets is to reduce assistance — sometime savagely, as in the case of food stamps — to those who need it.

Ryan no longer refers to social programs as a “hammock” for the idle, but he still wants to cut them. And he cited Eloise Anderson, a Wisconsin state official, to tell a story in his CPAC speech — it got more attention than he now wishes — about “a young boy from a very poor family” who “would get a free lunch from a government program.”

The young man “told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”

Ryan didn’t understand that this was a made-up story. After reporting by the Wonkette blog and The Post’s Glenn Kessler, Anderson admitted that she had never spoken to the boy. She picked up the story from a TV interview. Worse, she then twisted a tale first told by supporters of government nutrition assistance that had absolutely nothing to do with school lunch programs.

But what’s most troubling here is that it did not occur to Ryan to check the story because it apparently didn’t occur to him that most kids on free lunch programs have parents who do care about them. They just can’t afford to put a nutritious lunch in a brown paper bag every day.

Ryan was so eager to make an ideological statement about family structure that he was not bothered by the implicit insult he was issuing to actual families of children on the lunch program. A little more empathy could have saved Ryan a lot of trouble. He apologized for the factual error but not for the insult.

Ryan certainly doesn’t sound like Ted Cruz, and one can hope that the visits Ryan has been making to poor neighborhoods will eventually move him to reconsider his attitude toward government programs. But for now, I am inclined to respect Cruz for giving us his views straight and not pretending he’s manufacturing new ideas. If conservative rethinkers such as Ryan have more than rhetorical and tactical differences with Cruz, they have yet to prove it.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 9, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | CPAC, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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